CLEWISTON, FL. -- South Florida’s Lake Okeechobee region offers some outstanding wildlife-viewing opportunities, judging by the fact the Big “O” Birding Festival is celebrating its 13th year. The counties southwest of Florida’s largest freshwater lake are known for their remarkable bird diversity and charismatic species like the snail kite and roseate spoonbill.
The festival agenda offers birders and other wildlife watchers rare opportunities to join tours on private ranches, as well as on Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wildlife management areas and other public lands and attractions. There are dozens of different tours available during the four-day event.
“Because this festival is small and each bus tour is limited to 20 people, the small groups ensure outstanding wildlife viewing,” said the FWC’s Mark Kiser.
The Big “O” Birding Festival, March 9-13 in LaBelle and surrounding areas, is hosted by the Hendry County Tourism Development Council. Headlining the event is legendary birder Greg Miller. Because space is limited for bus tours, it is advisable to register now. To see what tours are available and to register, go to the festival’s website: BigOBirdingFestival.com. The registration form lists all of the available tours.
Once again, the festival has invited FWC staff to inform participants and lead tours. Presenter/field trip leader Kiser is a biological scientist with the FWC’s Public Access and Wildlife Viewing Services office; he is the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) coordinator.
While the Big “O” Festival highlights Hendry and Glades counties, participants in the area can check out other GFBWT locations in the area during their stay.
“It’s not every day you can see lots of amazing birds breeding in one place at the same time,” Kiser said, citing one tour he co-leads for the festival. “We’ll observe Florida burrowing owls sharing a pasture with a herd of Brangus cattle, and besides these pint-sized predators, we’ll also see nesting crested caracaras, Florida sandhill cranes, swallow-tailed kites and bald eagles – a testimony to the host ranchers’ superb stewardship efforts.”
“The Big “O” region certainly does not disappoint, as more than 300 bird species have been recorded in the area,” Kiser said. “The FWC has many wildlife management areas there, and our Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail program offers nine locations in Hendry and Glades counties alone.”
To learn more about the Big “O” Birding Festival and other area opportunities, including lodging, go toBigOBirdingFestival.com.